Monthly Archives: April 2010

A Life Designed for Purpose

23 April 2010 | The National, Abu Dhabi

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

– Lewis Carroll

Last week I pointed to the fact that a person’s worth is in direct measure to the value of the things to which he or she is attached. Not according to a gold standard, though, but instead a criterion of meaning. If one’s heart is attached to meaningful things, then one’s value is meaningful; and if to petty things then one’s value is, well, petty. If one’s heart, on the other hand, is attached to what is eternal, beginningless and endless, then his or her worth is endless and without limit.

When we scan the social landscape to look at what people have attached themselves to, we can get an idea of where they are headed in their lives. A prima facie analysis of society tells us that a great many people are attached to things that have no sustainable meaning. The word status on my credit card, is that sustainable? The word “platinum” or “premium”, is a premium “what” at the end of the day? What does it mean to be titillated by celebrities today, who tomorrow will be in rehab or embroiled in a sex scandal? They are also searching for meaning. The resulting equation is a life that is meaningless, without purpose. If the goal in life is to get oneself into the business-flyer bracket, what then? Where are you flying to?

But a life without purpose is not the design that Allah prescribed for people. He has created the world for a purpose and made humankind an entity of meaning. Four seasons, one Sun, exact distances, the list is unceasing.

Two constellations of universal purposes have been prescribed for humankind, one ultimate, another penultimate. The second are the aims of human action; the preservation of spiritual experience, the preservation of life, the preservation of intellect, the preservation of human dignity and the preservation of private property.

The first, and ultimate, constellation of aims is accessed through a window opened by the first aim in the penultimate set. These have been illuminated by al-Raghib al-Isphahani (an early influence on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali) as: devotion to Allah (the eternal absolute), positive development of the earth, and self-purification.

Spiritual experience can be grounded in reality or not. If it is, then it will open on to the vista of devotion, development, and purification illustrated above.

Humankind has been commissioned with the stewardship (khilafa) of these two constellations in such a way that it leads to equilibrium in the natural and social environment. Otherwise, “corruption has appeared in the earth and in the sea because of what the hands of men have wrought,” (Quran 30:41).

An example of these constellations at play as the factors of stewardship is as follows:

From the standpoint of spiritual experience the Earth is a sign (alam) reflecting the existence of its Creator. It is a horizon for the devotional contemplation of the interplay of His divine attributes. It is also the context of human experience and its preservation is the preservation of the well-being of life. This is achieved through positive and harmonious development, the condition of which is the promotion of a sound and balanced intellect.

A life without purpose is meaningless. The measure of this is to look at the meaning of one’s endeavours, or lack thereof. I don’t think anyone of sound constitution is content with a life without meaning. So perhaps things need a little re-calibration; but that’s all part of the adventure isn’t it?


Friday Sermon: Rights Responsibilities of Brotherhood pt. 7a – Solidarity of Brotherhood

Sermon delivered in Abu Dhabi on 09 January 2010.

To Listen:

Download Here: 09-01-10_Brotherhood pt 7a – Solidarity of Brotherhood

(Khutba starts at 01:39 minutes)

Imam Zaid Shakir in Abu Dhabi


We’re pleased to announce that Imam Zaid Shakir is currently in Abu Dhabi and will be delivering a series of three lessons on the book “Treatise for the Seekers” by the Imam al-Harith al-Muhasibi. All are welcome to attend.

Tuesday 20th – Thursday 22nd April

Mohammad b. Zayed Mosque

Between Maghrib & Isha Prayers

For a map of the location please refer to

Swimming Against a Shameless Current

17 April 2010 | The National

The twenty-first century rat race has no place for modesty. Neither do twenty-first century consumption-based economic models for that matter. Modesty will probably not give you the edge that will shoe you into that corner office. Especially if it’s going to require an over-confident ego to make up for a dearth of skills and no authentic ideas.

All today’s ambitious ‘would-be’ executive needs is some swagger and a velvet tongue. There, the bar has been set. Some call it working the game; others call it serving up what comes out the other end of a male cow. But does the world really revolve on bovine deliverables?

Some say that if we don’t play the game we’ll never get ahead. Perhaps that’s true. But perhaps integrity still carries some weight in our world. Perhaps we’re running with the wrong herd or barking up the wrong opportunity.

Modesty, in the Islamic literature, literally means to retract, or recoil, from anything that would bring censure or blame. But in a world where nothing more is sacred and iniquity has become virtue, and virtue becomes blameworthy, what remains to be shy from?

There’s more to it than this however, modesty in Arabic is haya’ and it comes from the word ‘life’. It implies also gentleness, kindness, and not only rising above what is petty and lewd, but avoiding cruelty, unfairness, and anything not in keeping with goodness and humanity. It was the character of Muhammad.

Both his supporters and detractors alike acknowledged the modesty and shyness in his character. It being a facet of his demeanor that stood in profound contrast to models of rugged “maleness” of the day; a point borne out clearly in the hagiographic literature.

His shyness made him never to want to embarrass another person; while his courage always bolstered him to stand up for right when others shrank away from it.

Far from being a mark of weakness, people of integrity should recognize the resolve in one another’s eyes and shut down the weasels and other rodents that scurry about in the shadows of the blindside of responsible leadership.

Courage is recognizing when its time to say “enough”. Someone’s got to ‘man up’ around here and let people know that they’re going to get called out if they insist on being shameless when there’s good work to get on with.

Allah has his own style of shyness too, if shyness means to shy away from doing anything other than the best. It is said that if a slave sincerely turns to Him and pours his heart out, with hands raised in supplication, that He is too shy to allow those hands to return with zero (sifr).

Balances of power take on a whole new meaning for those who look to the ultimate scheme of things. Whereas the power politics of those who can’t see beyond the short-term can only be called petty, the only label fitting for someone who puts his faith in it. This is because the value of a person is measured only by the value of his attachments.

Learning From Others’ Scandals

03 April 2010 | The National Newspaper

As the Catholic Church audits the dark recesses of chronic illness and looks for a light at the end of the labyrinth of lost directions, it is not time to gloat at the misfortunes of an institution that not too long ago pointed the finger of accusation at Islam as the source of all evil.

Instead, it is time to reflect on the lessons that must be learnt from tragedies that, once they become a part of history, cannot be turned back.

The lessons that we can learn from the scandals of others are the frailty of the human condition and the invaluableness of bravery. We need to condition ourselves not to be surprised when people – despite their sincerest aspirations – prove the frailty of their humanity.

Nietzsche’s “uber-man” does not exist and fallibility is the inseparable quality of the human essence. The Creator himself says in the Quran, “and man has been created weak”. It is only when we lose sight of this reality that we become susceptible to shock and trauma. While religious leadership must be based on spiritual and gnostic merit and not fixed vocational policies, we also have to allow for people to be human. It’s not just fairness to them, but also for the sake of our own sanity.

The second lesson is the invaluable quality of bravery. Despite the themes of consumer advertising and corporate marketing, we live in a world that places a premium on conformity. In such an environment where the nail that sticks out is quickly hammered back into place, we stand to lose the saving force of bravery.

To speak up when everyone is silent, to comment on a given authority’s “new wardrobe” where public safety or morality demands it. Without bravery, the leak in the hull of the ship is never attended to and the “bystander effect” prevails. Have we fostered enough moral force in our community to speak up when the situation warrants, or will we be the “tongueless devil” to which the Prophet Mohammed referred?

Let me add a third point to this that needs to be deeply reflected upon by all those in positions of leadership, whether it be social, political or spiritual.

It needs to be understood that the worst part of this case is not the physical abuse. Physical wounds heal and bodies are reconstructed. It is the abuse of trust that causes what is often irreparable trauma. Before anyone who carries the “amanah” (responsibility) of the trust of other human souls points the finger of derision at another, they had better engage in some very serious self-audit. One of the key contributors to the failure of modern society is our not recognising the immensity of responsibility for the souls that have been entrusted to those in leadership.

The Muslim community and its leadership should take this opportunity to perform its own internal audit. Are we addressing our issues? Do we speak up when fairness and right demand it, or are we in the habit of sweeping everything unsightly or uncomfortable under the rug?

That doesn’t mean to advocate that issues not be dealt with discretely, just that they be dealt with. Discretion is part of good conduct just like pointing the self-satisfied finger of derision at others is not, the Prophet Mohammed prohibited “broadcasting scandalous behaviour”.

In the words of the Fourth Caliph of Islam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, “Take yourselves to account before you are taken to account.”